Here’s a fun forest friend that anyone on the eastern side of the United States might be familiar with, the Eastern Newt. Specifically, this is the life stage of Notophthalmus viridescens known as the “red eft” which represents the terrestrial part of this organism’s time on Earth. It will first begin its life as a tadpole-like larva in the water where it hatches, then our slimy pal takes to the land, living there in the ent phase until it returns to the water once again as an adult newt. It takes about two or three years to go from ent to adult, but the total lifespan for an Eastern Newt in the wild can be up to fifteen years!
Newts are a subset of salamanders, amphibians commonly found in many places throughout the world. It wasn’t easy to miss this salamander, standing out so brightly on the forest floor. The Eastern Newt produces tetrodotoxin, making them unpalatable to the fish and crayfish who may want to try their luck on an amphibian meal. The beautiful bright red and orange hues of these ents are now known to serve as a warning to potential predators about their toxicity, but that wasn’t always the case. The alarming colors were once thought to be related to fire according to Greek and Native American myths and legends, a strange association when you consider how much these little guys love damp, dark spaces. In Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, for instance, the Salamanders are the nickname for the firemen responsible for book-burning. This is based on the ancient belief that salamanders were not afflicted by flames and lived in fire.
Despite the old stories about salamanders and fire, to find some of your own you’ll want to avoid campfires and instead look under rocks and logs in damp forests. The best time to search for salamanders is in cool mornings and evenings after rain. The little guy I stumbled across was relaxing on a tree root, probably enjoying the light drizzle over the quiet woods, its presence a shock of color on a grey day.